Our Future Planes: NASA Reveals The Airplanes Of 2025

NASA’s contracted three of the biggest names in aircraft design to dream up the kind of airliner we’ll see in 2025, and has just shown the initial concepts.

NASA has just taken the wraps off three concept designs for quiet, energy efficient aircraft that could potentially be ready to fly as soon as 2025. Photo: Matthew Ogle/Flickr

Are you ready for the next generation of passenger airplanes. NASA has just taken the wraps off three concept designs for quiet, energy efficient aircraft that could potentially be ready to fly as soon as 2025.

The designs come from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and The Boeing Company. In the final months of 2010, each of these companies won a contract from NASA to research and test their concepts during 2011.

Each design looks very different, but all final designs have to meet NASA’s goals for less noise, cleaner exhaust and lower fuel consumption.

Each aircraft has to be able to do all of those things at the same time, which requires a complex dance of tradeoffs between all of the new advanced technologies that will be on these vehicles.

This is the sort of long term aeronautical experimentation that NASA funds from time to time, spurring companies to look into long term evolutionary concepts rather than incremental R&D in their usual business areas.

Boeing’s Design:

Like a Stealth Bomber: Artist's concept of an aircraft that could enter service in 2025 from the team led by The Boeing Company. Photo: NASA/Boeing

“Boeing’s design (shown above) is the most familiar from this crop. It looks like it’s an evolution of earlier Boeing concepts and even test vehicles,” writes Kit Eaton on FastCompany.com

“It’s a part-winged, part lifting-body vehicle, with huge internal volume for carrying hundreds of passengers or many tons of cargo, and it has engines mounted on top of the rear body flap so that their noise is much better shielded from the ground.”

“These engines are either conventional turbofans (presumably with efficiency and noise-suppression tech evolved from that used on the Boeing Dreamliner) or the kind of experimental turbo-screw that’s currently a hot-topic research field due to its improved fuel efficiency.”

Northrop Grumman’s Design:

Double B-52: Artist's concept of an aircraft that could enter service in 2025 from the team led by Northrop Grumman. Photo: NASA/Northrop Grumman

Kit Eaton says about Northrop Grumman’s design: “NG has initially gone for a dual-fuselage concept, something that’s been contemplated for some time.”

“The idea is that you can produce a much larger cargo volume using more conventional aircraft designs, and that the engines are partly shielded by the twin bodies which will contain noise pollution better. It has the advantage of allowing passengers to have windows, and could allow for mixed-mode uses with part-cargo, part-passenger flights.”

“The design isn’t even that unexpected, if you consider the White Knight carrier aircraft that’ll be lofting Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo into space.”

Lockheed’s Design:

Engine at the back: Artist's concept of an aircraft that could enter service in 2025 from the team led by Lockheed Martin. Photo: NASA/Lockheed Martin

“Lockheed’s concept is the most aesthetically attractive of the three. It’s a development of current aircraft body design, but incorporates unusual aerodynamic advances in the vehicle’s wing and engine,” says Mr. Eaton

“The wings look for the most part like a Dreamliner’s wing and blended vertical winglet, but the winglet extends upwards and folds back in a loop to connect to the aircraft’s tail–this increases the area available for lift.”

“The aircraft has a single giant engine, which will require significant reliability improvements over current turbofan design, but its placement in the tail of the aircraft means it pushes along the centerline and could radiate less noise downward to the ground.”

Summary:

The proposed aircraft will also have to operate safely in a more modernized air traffic management system. And each design has to fly up to 85 percent of the speed of sound; cover a range of approximately 7,000 miles; and carry between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of payload, either passengers or cargo.

For the rest of this year, each team will be exploring, testing, simulating, keeping and discarding innovations and technologies to make their design a winner. [NASA via CNET and Fast Company]

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